Yeh Mera Pahale Baar Yahaan Pe Nahiin Hai, Or, This Is Not My First Time Here

I was recently encouraged to write an entry on some scams I’ve encountered in my travels in India. Having been there several times now, I’ve met with a few.

First of all, I don’t want to portray a negative image of India. While it has it’s problems, it has great people, beauty, history, and culture. If I didn’t love it so much, I would have stopped going after my first time there. I’ve been back twice, and it keeps drawing me back.

 I would like to point out that I have met multitudes of genuine, friendly, honest, and caring people in India. Many of them have taken this lone traveler under their wing, fed me, looked after me, and sometimes even invited me into their home. Like anywhere else, one encounters both honest and not-so-honest actions. But India does have a reputation for it’s share of touts, or people out to make a buck off of unsuspecting tourists.

Also bear in mind that even the poorest traveler to India has access to much more money than most of the people trying to get them to part with it. Scads. And many of these scams amount to the sum of only a few dollars. Yes, it’s a pain in the assets. When visiting for longer periods of time, it does get old sometimes, and makes one wary that everyone is out to make money from them. It also discourages many tourists from returning, which in the long run won’t be helpful for vendors. But one has to ask themselves if it’s really worth getting upset over. There are no easy answers. Caution, a big-picture view, patience, compassion, and a sense of humor go a long way.

So that being said, here is a short list of scams I’ve seen, and some I’ve even fallen for:

“Shoe! Shoe” – On my first trip to India I saw a woman in Delhi who was wearing a pair of sandals that appeared ready to disintegrate. She said she didn’t want money. Just a new pair of shoes. She then led me to a shop and pointed out a pair of shoes that cost 500 rupees, or $8 USD (twice the price as what they usually cost). I fell for it, and bought her the pair of shoes. Later I saw her walking around begging with the same raggedy shoes, and was told that she most likely split the proceeds with the vendor (who kept the shoes to sell again).

Taken for a ride – Quite a common thing is to be told by a rickshaw wallah that they will take you to a major attraction for a nice low price. And they will, eventually. On the way, they’ll take you to a rug shop, a carving shop, a sari shop, a jewelry shop…basically  the shops of all their friends, where they’ll earn a percentage of anything you buy. Even if you tell them you are not interested, they’ll say “Just to look”. Walk away and find another driver.

This also happens with hotels. The drivers will tell you that your hotel is full or was just closed down due to a fire, bankruptcy, bubonic plague, or whatever. Or they’ll pretend they can’t find your hotel. They will try to take you to a “much better hotel” run by their uncle. Don’t do it. They’ll overcharge you and get the profits.

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“The meter is broken” – Another rickshaw or taxi driver trick. You’re much better off using the meter, but I’ve rarely seen them used outside of southern India or in Kolkata for people who live there and know better. Usually drivers prefer to give you an inflated price, and sometimes even raise it while you’re riding along. If you’ve just arrived at an airport or train station in India, find the prepaid taxi stand. It’s your best bet. Or learn to either bargain aggressively or be overcharged.

“Change for the worse” – Torn currency is not accepted by most vendors, but if there’s an unsuspecting tourist, they will often unload it on them as change. Be alert.

“There’s no such thing as a free blessing” – If someone wearing orange or in costume (one guy in Rishikesh dresses up as Hanuman) comes up to you and wants to bless you, most likely he or she will want a monetary blessing in return, and tourists are expected to pay much more.

The great jewelry scam – in Rajasthan and other places, I hear it is common to get tourists to buy jewelry to take back to their country, in order to sell it back to “associates”  of the vendor. Sadly, the associates don’t exist, and the unsuspecting tourist has just bought a bunch of fake jewelry that they’re now stuck with.

“First time in India?” – If you hear this from a rickshaw/taxi driver or a store owner, guard your wallet. It’s a good indication you’re about to get scammed.

“Ek selfie, please”Not a scam. The people who ask this consider it an honor, or at least a novelty, to have you in their pictures. Be prepared to be asked this on a regular basis.

There are, I’m sure, many other scams. These are the one’s I’ve encountered, or in the case of the jewelry, heard about. If you are thinking of going to India, by all means, go. Just be aware. Many others have written about scams in India. One of my favorite sites for travelers is IndiaMike.com, which has a wealth of information.

So go. Travel responsibly, and remember not to sweat the small stuff.

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And until next time, be well and peaceful.

Bye Bye Buy…sort of

I thought I’d do a reckoning of my no-buying for a year. I’m afraid I’ve slipped a bit, but I am continuing my efforts to stick with it.

My purchase list so far:

Painting supplies – a tube of watercolor paint, a sketchbook, a masking pen (which din’t work), and a calligraphy pen as a replacement for the masking pen (which worked marginally better). As I am looking into selling my art professionally, I don’t feel too bad about the purchases in this category, but I did neglect to include art supplies as an exception. So there it is.

A Hindi-English Dictionary. I know some Hindi, and it is my dream to someday become fluent in it, along with some other languages in that tree. I could have bought it as a digital version, but for reference, sometimes an actual paper book is much more useful.

A skillet. Sort of an impulse buy. We have some old cast aluminum cookware at home, but cooking eggs on it is a sticky mess. That being said, I could have avoided this purchase and worked with what was in the kitchen already.

A picture frame. Totally could have bought this used, but I wanted to put a picture of some nuns on my altar, and felt the picture deserved a new frame. Would they care? Probably not.

And I blew out both knees of my only pair of jeans, so I replaced them (the pair of jeans, not the knees).

Not a long list, and all of the purchases had some reasoning behind them. But my goal is to not buy anything outside of the previously mentioned exceptions for a year. So I will continue to keep at it.

I’m not beating myself up over what I’ve bought. My goal in doing this is to make it a learning process. When I notice the urge to buy something, where does the need truly exist? Does it exist? What rationale does the mind use to justify breaking my vow? Can I look into that and see it for what it is?

I’ve read of using a “Thirty Day List” in the book “Your Money or Your Life”. Pretty self-explanatory: if you want to buy something, you put it on a list. You wait 30 days. If you still want to buy it, go for it. In using this practice, I’ve usually found that I didn’t really need the item (and never did), and the desire for the object wanes or evaporates, vs the feeling of “I have to have this NOW” that I may feel at the moments before an impulse purchase.

So my goal in this project is sort of a “365 Day List”. A learning curve to watch impulse purchases, and also to save on limited funds. Some might say I’ve failed already, but my goal in this is the process, not an absolute. So I will continue to work on not buying, and watch the “I want” mind.

PS. Speaking of buying, a friend suggested I should write an entry on scams I’ve encountered in my travels, so I promise, that’s coming next!

Be well and peaceful

It’s not you. It’s not them. It just is (or isn’t).

OK, so I’ve decided to keep the blog rolling for now.

I have heard from so many friends lately that are in challenging relationships, or are in the aftermath of failed relationships, that I wanted to share some words of, well, maybe “not-wisdom”. Maybe experience.

I hate to say it, but I’ve been in a lot of failed relationships. If you’re looking for how to get into a good relationship and stay there, find another blog. This is NOT the blog you were looking for.

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But if you’re interested in what I’ve learned, or are looking for some commiseration, keep reading. I am by no means claiming to be an expert. Some of this is more intellectual knowledge than internalized, but we’re all getting there in our own time. Some of this is from Buddhist practice, some is from a book I’ve recently read called “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach, some from friends, and some is just from past experience. Much of it overlaps. You may be aware of these things already, but in my own experience, I find commonality with others to be helpful.

First and foremost: There is nothing wrong with you. The end of this relationship (or the relationship in general) has no bearing on your worth as a human being. It’s just the nature of human relationships. Repeat as needed.

Maybe you keep thinking of the good times you had together and minimizing the bad, and wondering what went wrong. Or maybe you’re thinking only of the bad, and wondering “What the h$$$ was I thinking?” Sometimes you think of both. That’s OK.

If they broke things off, you may be wondering why. You may never hear their answer of “why” and even if they tell you, it probably won’t make sense. If you ended the relationship, you might feel guilt even though you know deep down that it was the right choice. All of these things are OK.

You and this other person came together for a period of time, you learned from them and they learned from you. Maybe there were good things that happened between you. Maybe a lot of good things. Or maybe a lot of bad things. Maybe both. Yet for some reason or another, that run came to an end, as all things do eventually. Even the truest love birds are parted by death. The fact that you and this person are not together anymore has nothing to do with your worth as a human being. Like two puzzle pieces, you simply did not fit. Or you did for a while, but now your shapes have changed, and the match is gone. You learned what you needed to learn from this person and this particular lesson is over.

You may have feelings of loss, loneliness, and perhaps even a feeling of worthlessness.

Accept them. Meet them with friendliness. Telling yourself that you shouldn’t have these feelings will only feed them and make a stronger narrative around them.

As you come to see and accept the feelings there without creating that narrative, eventually, they get tired and go away. Honest. This will take a while, and will be a struggle to say the least. Be patient. Give yourself time and don’t be in a rush for acceptance. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself.

Imagine that all of your friends and loved ones are standing around you in a circle, cheering you on. Hopefully you have family and friends nearby that can do this in person, but if not, use your imagination. Try to talk to yourself as they would talk to you; not beating yourself up.

Eventually we find that there is so much more in life than these transient feelings. And the transient relationship.

And know, dear reader, that I’m cheering for you too.

Spring has sprung

It’s been a while since my last post. It’s not that life has been boring by any means, but I haven’t had any news that I wanted to share. I’ve faced a few curveballs in early spring that knocked me down for a bit, but am back on my feet. And wheels. Now that the temperatures are rising, I’ve been taking time for myself outdoors as well as inside, and have been walking and riding the trails nearby.

To be honest, I almost scrapped the blog. I’ve become even more aware that there’s a huge potential for making a “self” out of blogging; a story line that one can buy into and build upon. Sort of like certain social media venues. I’m still debating whether or not to continue, or in what way. But for now, perhaps I’ll just try to brighten your day with a little local color.

Enjoy the photos, and feel free to share your feelings about keeping a blog.

Be well and peaceful.

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Bye bye buy

I’ve decided to make 2019 a year of buying nothing. “What!?” You say? “How will you live?”

OK, I’ll explain. If you search for “Year of Buying Nothing” online, you’ll see that I’m not the first person to do this. Many have done this – and succeeded, before me. Everyone has their own parameters of what is excluded. Food, medicine, and shelter are the usual items. Deciding further than that depends on your situation. Your mileage may vary.  But the idea is to get off the consumer treadmill and evaluate when your purchases truly add value to your life, or whether they’re a distraction to mask some deeper desire that things will never fulfill (Hint: it’s often the latter).

Spend a few minutes in any thrift store and you will see thousands of items that once were brand new. They were sitting on a shelf, and someone walked by and saw them, exclaiming to some degree, “This X is perfect! How did I ever live without this?”. Then that person spent their money, took the item home, and was quite happy with it. For a while. And with time, the item lost its appeal, and gathered dust. Until one day, the person saw it and said (more or less) “Why did I ever buy this? I don’t need it, and I don’t want it.” And then it ends up in the thrift store with all the other items.

I’m not advocating having an empty home, and there are those whose income is limited to the point that this will be a given. But for those of us who have the inclination and ability to do this, I think it’s worthwhile.

So here are the exclusions I’ve set for myself:

  1. Food, medicines, and consumables one would get at the grocery store, such as shampoo, etc..
  2. Non-physical Experiences – I don’t eat at restaurants very often, but will continue buying meals (and coffee) out on occasion. Same with travel expenses or park fees. Anything that doesn’t take up space in one’s home.
  3. Electronic media – I may revisit this if I see that I’m spending too much here, but again, doesn’t take up space (other than computer memory).
  4. Gifts – My goal is not to inflict my simplicity path on anyone else, and I’ve already done a lot of downsizing in this category. I may investigate giving experiences as gifts at some point.
  5. Replacements: If something I own currently becomes beyond repair, I will allow myself to replace it, but only if it’s essential.

These are the allowances I’m giving myself. My goal is to limit how much I spend on things, and to look at why I bring them into my life.

I’ve always had a minimalist nature, and since I stopped working, my income has been limited. Not unbearably so, but enough to suggest that I could benefit from putting the brakes on extra spending. I’m also looking forward to watching the mind when it can’t get what it wants, and discovering why it wants what it does (if there’s any rhyme or reason to it).

I am sending out an invitation: If you’re up for joining me in this process, please add your comments at the bottom. Decide your own parameters, and see how they work for you. Don’t think you can do it for a year? Try a month for starters and see how it goes. I’m looking forward to sharing the journey…

End of Story 

Over two years ago, I met someone with whom I developed a strong and strange friendship. It was never a romantic thing, and probably had some resonance from past experience. I had spent a fair bit of time with this person, and did my best to do what I could to help him in a time of need. Last year our time together came to an end with arguments and hurt feelings, along with a feeling of betrayal and unanswered questions.

I spent a lot of time afterwards wondering what happened, why, what if, etc., etc.. I wanted answers, and thought that if I had them, I’d feel better. Too much time spent in the story of what happened drew me down a dark path that took a while to reverse. It wasn’t until I dropped the story line and the unanswered questions, and simply recognized and accepted the feelings and held them in awareness, that the wounds healed in time. The story line eventually dropped, and I moved on. All things that are of the nature to arise are of the nature to cease.

I also had the opportunity to reconnect with other healthier relationships and to be reminded of how they feel as well. I’ve been in a much more peaceful mental space for a while now.

From this stable ground I recently encountered this person again. In the interest of reconciliation, I thought it might be a chance to exchange perceptions of what happened, and to be honest, hoped to receive some sort of an apology.

Neither were provided.

The same dynamics that plagued the friendship in the past have continued, and I’m not terribly surprised. The pleasant surprise is that my involvement in the answers (and the person) is not there anymore. I no longer feel the need to know what happened. The clinging to “why” isn’t present, and neither my happiness nor peace are dependent upon the answers.

Sharing perceptions of what happened for both of us would have been a step towards true reconciliation, and it’s a bit sad that this will not take place. There is a shallow détente now, but nothing more. I wish him well and will continue to be kind, but the true friendship and trust are no longer there.

Instead I’ve reconciled myself, and I’ve moved on to a healthier place. As memories or emotions appear, I’m continuing the same process that my teachers have given me: feeling the feelings in the body, accepting them, and riding the wave with awareness as the feeling passes.

The answers to what happened last year will most likely never transpire. I’m no longer counting on them. The reconciliation has happened with the feelings involved, even if it hasn’t been with the relationship in which they arose. The story line continues to fall away, and my own sense of peace has emerged from the rubble.

That’s all the answer I need.

Alaska Inside Passage Cruise: The Good, the Bad, and the Amazing

Please don’t judge. For my final travel hurrah for a while, I went on a cruise. I can plead that it wasn’t my idea, but I did have a great time, regardless, and am thankful that my family members prompted me to visit such an amazing region.

I went with my son, daughter in law, and her parents on a week long cruise through the inside passage of Alaska, and enjoyed it immensely. The scenery was fantastic, and being on a cruise ship wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. Gambling, formal events and drinking alcohol are not on my lists of ‘fun things to do’, so I had imagined I’d feel quite out of place (on the ship, not with family members). But being in nature, spending time with family, and learning about new places are quite enjoyable, and that’s definitely what happened.

I arrived separately in Vancouver, BC, and had time to explore the huge ship on my own before we set sail. A city in miniature; the ship had fifteen floors, several dining rooms, a gym, pools, hot tubs, a casino, a theater, and more, with a capacity to house 2600 passengers and 1100 crew members. One could get lost, and occasionally I did.

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Inside the ship

Setting sail introduced a peculiar sensation of gentle rocking which took some getting used to, but with acupressure wrist bands, nothing that produced sea-sickness. We stayed at sea for that evening and the next day, and after 24 hours the bands weren’t even necessary. So I was able to enjoy the delicious food, and comfortably spend time with family on board. While drinking and gambling were the agenda for some, there were plenty of other things for us to do on board. Our group attended trivia contests (winning twice) and enjoyed lectures from Libby Riddles (first woman to win the Iditarod) and Susan Marie Conrad, who kayaked solo for 1000 miles along the inside passage. I also enjoyed walking around the promenade deck, absorbing the scenery and the salty sea air.

Our first port was Ketchikan. Its name, derived from Kich-xaan, comes from the first Tlingit inhabitants. It’s located on Revillagigedo Island, and is only accessible by sea or air. The climate is temperate rainforest, although we had no rain during our visit. I started out early to see a bit of the town and was not disappointed. Taking the City Walk, I traipsed through historical areas of Creek St. (formerly the location of the city brothels, now a shopper’s haven) and the harbor, and then slogged uphill to the Totem Museum to view traditional carved totem poles from the native Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.

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Houses near Creek Street

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Walking back downhill I visited the peaceful city park and the salmon ladder next to waterfalls of Ketchikan Creek. Hundreds of salmon waited their turn at the bottom of the falls, summoning the energy to make successive leaps up to the top, and back to their spawning grounds.

Watch salmon jump up the waterfall

I would have loved to spend more time meandering, but we were scheduled for a kayaking trip. We boarded a bus to Clover Pass, north of the town, and were given gear and instruction, then loaded into kayaks. Setting off for a trip around the Eagle Islands, we saw tidal sea life, eagles, and a brief glimpse of a whale. The waters were calm, and the trip was enjoyable. All the kayaking practice I had in Desolation Sound was rewarded: my son and I were doubled, and we often found ourselves ahead of the group. A fast stroke pace gave us time to take lots of pictures while waiting.

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Starfish on the rocks
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Breakfast

We had just enough time to get back to the ship before departing for the next port of call, and we arrived in the state capital of Juneau the next morning. This time we started off the day with a trip to a dog mushers’ camp. These camps provide food and exercise for the dogs during off season, and a learning experience for the visitors, and a chance to snuggle with puppies as well. We learned about the life of an Iditarod racer (not easy!) and about the dogs themselves. Most visitors to Alaska think of the sled dogs as being fluffy dogs like Malamutes or Siberian Huskies. These are a different breed; leaner, and while somewhat fluffy, not as much as one expects. They love to work. The teams would howl and bark whenever they weren’t pulling the wheeled “sleds” that pulled the tourists, and we learned that they had to be trained not to wear themselves out.

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Ready to go

 

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Alaskan Rainforest

 

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And they called it…puppy luuuuuv

I had heard that the Mendenhall Glacier was a “don’t miss” experience. While there are buses happy to take tourists there for a limited time and $40, one can take the public bus for $4 round trip, be dropped off 1.5 miles from the visitor center, and take as long as one wants to walk the trails and view the glacier. There are no trails that go directly to the glacier from the visitor center, so I opted for the trail to Nugget Falls that offered spectacular views and a lovely walk.

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Mendenhall Glacier
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Nugget Falls with Mendenhall in the background

Our last port of call was Skagway, an historic town with a year-round population of under 1200 people. Judging by the amount of stores in town, its main source of income appears to be tourism. There’s the historic Red Onion Saloon and the Skagway Museum, which tell the story of Skagway’s involvement with the Gold Rush era, and then there are more shops than you can shake a stick at. We walked around for a bit, but I found nothing that I, or anyone I know truly needed. So after lunch I found the Dewey Lake Trail, and hiked to Reid Falls and around Dewey Lake through a quiet forest. Heaven.

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Dewey Lake
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The harbor from above

Staying on the ship, we visited Glacier National Park and College Fjord, watching glaciers calve and marveling at the scenery.

Watching a glacier calve is a bittersweet experience; it’s an amazing scene to watch a mighty chunk of ice break off into the water, yet knowing that the glaciers are shrinking, it’s tough to watch that process occur before one’s very eyes.

Which leads to…the bad.

A minor annoyance were the sales pitches. To badly paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that any passenger in possession of a cruise ticket must be in want of some jewelry. At least that’s how it seemed. There were several jewelry shops on board the ship, onboard announcements of jewelry sales, and presentations and advertisements of stores at ports of call. Apparently someone is buying it though, as I’m sure they wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t such a money generator for them.

More serious though, are the negative effects of cruise travel. I had heard of the environmental impact that cruise ships impart onto the places they visit. After returning home, I was hoping that I could find some information that would tell me that this wasn’t as bad as I had heard. If all of these 2600 passengers took plane flights to these places, wouldn’t it be worse environmentally than being together on a ship? Sort of like a floating bus? Sadly, no. By carbon emissions alone, a cruise passenger releases roughly twice as much carbon per mile as an air passenger (Data from this article). In addition, there are other issues with wastewater release, sulfur emissions, ship noise, and bilge water as well. While many cruise lines are working to lessen the damage which their ships cause, they’ve still got a long way to go.

The other issue I found was the working conditions for employees on board. Those in the service sectors are often hired from developing countries and paid less for long hours and minimal time off. While they may earn more than they would in their own country, and there is no shortage of applicants, it still appears to be a “sweat shop at sea” in many cases.

I realize that it’s rather hypocritical of me to spout these statistics after I’ve gone on the cruise. I’m sorry. Would I go on another one? No, probably not. One of the things taking the cruise has done is to create a greater interest in the environment of the places I visited. I am grateful that I had an opportunity to visit this beautiful landscape, and hope to do a better job of protecting it in the future. This region is amazing, and I hope it will remain so for generations to come.

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